Western Trips

Western Trips

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Civil War Infantry


palace of the governors in santa fe
Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe NM

Among the many interesting attractions in Santa Fe New Mexico is the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors. Both of these sites are history museums and they often present special events and reenactments. One such reenactment that was held in the courtyard which separates the two venues was a demonstration by the 3rd New Mexico Volunteer Civil War Infantry. When visiting or vacationing in Santa Fe, it's always a good thing to check with the museums beforehand to learn what exhibitions might be on their calendar. The photos shown in this article were taken during this very well presented reenactment.

The Confederate Strategy in the Southwest 

During the American Civil War, New Mexico Territory was a region that experienced considerable action. Starting from Fort Bliss Texas, the Confederate Civil War units under General Henry Sibley, whose public domain photo is shown below made great inroads into New Mexico. They fought their way up the Rio Grande with the goal of overtaking just about all the Union military storehouses in their path.

confederate general henry sibley
Confederate General Sibley
A very important part of the Confederate strategy during the war was to secure a route to the Pacific coast. So many southern ports were under Union blockades that a Pacific port would enable the Confederacy to obtain much needed supplies. A Pacific coast port at San Diego was the goal of the Confederate Civil War units. As a result, battles were fought between Texas Confederate volunteers and Union Civil War infantry forces in Arizona. At one time during the war, the Confederacy laid claim to the southern section of the then Territory of New Mexico and proclaimed it as a Confederate territory. The decisive battle that ended Confederate advances to the west coast occurred at the Battle of Picacho Pass or sometimes referred to as the Battle of Picacho Peak in an area about 50 miles northwest of Tucson Arizona in April of 1862.

The 3rd New Mexico Volunteer Regiment

The 3rd New Mexico Volunteers Civil War Infantry helped return the New Mexico Territory to the Union side during the Civil War. Most of the 3rd New Mexico Volunteer Infantry were made up of Hispanics. Not long before the Civil War, in the 1840's, these same volunteers had been Mexican citizens. Their familiarity with the "slavery" issues of the Civil War were not that great. Nevertheless, Texans had made enough incursions into the New Mexico Territory that the tensions resulting from it led thousands of volunteers to sign up with the U.S. Army to protect the Territory. The infantry in the New Mexican theater of the Civil War was very important and effective.

Federal government records indicate that a total of 12,970 men served for the Union Civil War units during the American Civil War from New Mexico. The New Mexico Volunteer Regiments had a total of some 157 Hispanic officers. The 3rd Infantry Volunteers were formed at both Albuquerque and Fort Union New Mexico in the fall of 1861.
civil war infantry reenactment
Reenactment of the New Mexico Volunteer Infantry
The 3rd Infantry Volunteers were commanded by Colonel Jose G. Gallegos. The regiments Company A were sent to Fort Craig which was located south of Socorro. The other half was stationed at Hatch’s Ranch at Glorieta Pass. The Battle of Glorietta Pass would eventually be the decisive battle that drove the Confederates out of New Mexico. This famous battle also involved the Colorado Volunteer Regiments that had entered New Mexico to aid the Union cause.

The 3rd New Mexico Volunteer Military Infantry and other Union Army regiments fought in the Battle of Valverde, where Company “A” was tasked to hold the line when Union troops were forced to retreat. In addition to this, because formal uniforms in New Mexico were in short supply, many of the New Mexico Volunteers wore whatever they happened to bring with them from home.

Similar with other New Mexico Union Volunteer Regiments, the 3rd New Mexico Civil War Infantry conducted its military drills and instruction in Spanish. The volunteers unfortunately were issued outdated weaponry and equipment. The materials were so outdated that they went as far back as the Mexican-American War in the 1840's.

Two additional Western Trips articles you'll find interesting are The Battle of Glorieta Pass and A Visit to Fort Union New Mexico.

civil war uniforms
Civil War uniforms and reenactment
New Mexico Military Exhibits

Among the very best of New Mexico historic sites to visit regarding the military infantry is Fort Union. Fort Union is located in northeastern New Mexico between the cities of Las Vegas and Raton. The Fort Union National Historic Site is located about 10 miles west of Interstate 25 which makes it easy to reach. Fort Union happened to be located at the junction of the two Santa Fe Trails, the Mountain Route and the Cimarron Cut-Off. From  Fort Union, the Santa Fe Trail continued on to both Las Vegas and Santa Fe. The Fort Union site offers a wonderful walking tour exhibit of the old adobe ruins as well as a great museum with many frontier artifacts of the 1800's. Additionally, the visitor to Fort Union can view genuine wagon ruts made from the Santa Fe Trail days. It's a terrific visit for the entire family.

santa fe trail wagon ruts
Santa Fe Trail ruts visible near Fort Union
As mentioned at the top of this article, the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors have a tremendous display of genuine artifacts from the frontier days all the way back to the time of Spanish settlement. When you visit the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe, be certain to see their display of a gun reportedly found at Columbus New Mexico and alleged to have been owned by one of Poncho Villa's troops. Another, is a wall clock with a gun shot hole that occurred during Villa's attack on Columbus New Mexico.


(Photos are from authors private collection unless otherwise noted)

The map below shows the location of Glorieta Pass New Mexico which is just east of Santa Fe along Interstate 25.




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